MLA Weighs In on CUNY

Delegates vote in favor of increased gun control and more information on adjunct working conditions, and against CUNY transfer system.

January 7, 2013

BOSTON — The Modern Language Association's Delegate Assembly passed a resolution criticizing the administration at the City University of New York, arguing that administrators infringed on faculty rights in creating and requiring a curricular system to ease transfer from the system's community colleges to its four-year institutions.

The delegates, who are language and literature professors, voted almost unanimously for the resolution, one of three put to a vote at the convention Saturday during a meeting where representatives of the association's membership vote on what positions the MLA will take on a range of issues. Saturday's session was calmer than delegate assemblies in years past, which have in some years been consumed with heated political debates (or meta-debates on whether the MLA should be taking positions on those issues at all). 

The CUNY program, known as Pathways, is intended to make it easier for students to transfer and to create common academic standards throughout the system. But it has met with strong resistance from faculty, some of whom argue that Pathways takes too much power away from individual campuses and departments, and that it is making the curriculum less rigorous.

In the resolution, the association came out in support of the faculty, arguing that the administration had bypassed faculty governance and overridden professors' rights to determine curriculum and graduation requirements. The resolution, which now goes to the association's executive committee for review and later to the full membership for a vote, also supported faculty decisions to withhold implementation of the new curriculum. In a statement, CUNY officials emphasized faculty participation in the program -- the courses have been developed and approved by full-time faculty -- and said the "structural obstacles" to easing transfer created an exceptional situation necessitating administration intervention. (Note: A previous version of this article said that CUNY officials could not be reached for comment; an e-mail sent to university officials did not arrive due to a technical error. The article has been updated to reflect the administration's response.)

Delegates voted nearly unanimously for two other resolutions. One resolution called for better data on salaries and working conditions for part-time and contingent faculty members, moving that the MLA become more active on issues important to adjuncts and part-time faculty. The motion calls for the MLA to promote the collection of national data on part-time faculty pay and working conditions. It also demanded the establishment of a database of colleges who meet MLA recommendations for the pay and working conditions for part-time faculty -- a sort of honor roll of colleges meeting the association's standards.

The third resolution expressed the MLA’s support for a statement on gun violence from the Association of American Universities issued last week. The statement called gun violence a “scourge of American life,” and asked for added gun control, better mental health care and an examination of how violence is depicted in American media.

Among delegates, there was little disagreement about the substance of the resolutions. During the four-hour meeting, which also included an hourlong discussion of faculty concerns about massive open online courses, much of the debate centered instead on wording and procedural issues.


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Libby A. Nelson

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